Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Author Interview: Gary Caruso

Recently, I was able to interview Gary Caruso, author of Our Souls to Keep, which I recently reviewed here! and I am infinitely excited to be able to share the interview, as well as more information on Our Souls to Keep.

After seventeen-year-old Wake Reynolds agrees to sacrifice his soul to protect his suicidal mother from the fiery tortures of Hell, Satan strips him of his humanity and forces him to become a demonic collector of souls. With no memory of his human existence, Wake spends years in loyal service—but something within him is changing. His stolen human emotions are beginning to return.

As Wake struggles to keep his new sensations hidden, Satan orders him to corrupt the soul of a pregnant girl, Annemarie. Beautiful, gentle Annemarie. From the moment Wake sees her, she brings lightness to his blackened heart, dampening his loneliness, fueling his passion. If he chooses to defy Satan and spare the lives of Annemarie and her unborn child, his mother’s soul will writhe in Hell’s deepest pit for eternity. Annemarie or his mother? It’s a choice no one should have to make.

JW: Describe Our Souls to Keep in less than 50 words.
GC: Our Souls to Keep is the action-packed, heart-wrenching journey of Wake, a demon soul collector, who seeks redemption for the horrible acts he committed in the past. When he meets Annemarie, his heart opens to love as he searches for belonging within the humanity he once surrendered.   

JW: How did the idea for Our Souls to Keep come to you?
GC: I fear this isn’t a very interesting answer, but I was walking through my neighborhood and it just appeared into my head. I had just finished a major revision of a different story and needed another project to work on. The brain is very interesting. If you tell it what you want, it will work on it while you’re doing other things. Once my brain had an idea, it jumped into my mind like a slice of bread popping from a toaster. The concept was pretty raw and shapeless. It took time to mold it into something exciting, but it was an excellent starting point.   

JW: When you wrote the novel, would you say you initially planned it out, or just wrote to see where you would go?
GC: I have to know a story’s direction. I never write anything until I can see the ending my head. Once I have that, I usually jot down random, unconnected ideas for scenes that may fit. Then I write a rough outline. But the key to good storytelling is having the flexibility to change directions at any point in the process. When I started Our Souls to Keep, I had a strong mental image of what would happen on the last pages. Even without knowing the characters, the emotions were powerful. The challenges were to develop characters who wouldn’t wilt under the weight of the emotion and to sketch a plot that gave these characters a strong voice to tell their story. With an outline as a guide, I began moving forward, but almost daily, Wake would do something that surprised me as if he had a better idea of the story than me. Or sometimes I’d laugh when one of the characters said something unexpected and funny. I know that sounds slightly insane, but I can say confidently that I know that Wake and Annemarie aren’t real. When I gave them creative freedom, the plot often changed for the better, but the ending stayed the same throughout.

JW: Have you always had an interest in angels and demons?
GC: Not really. I needed to place Wake and Annemarie in the middle of someone else’s conflict. The battle between Heaven and Hell was perfect because they fight like a dysfunctional family. Except in this case, the fate of humanity is at stake.  

JW: Did you decide that Wake would be the voice to tell this story from the beginning? How was writing from his point of view?
GC: I originally wrote the first three chapters of Our Souls to Keep in a 3rd person-past point of view because I thought it would be best to know Wake and Annemarie equally. But Wake is a complex character. He is truly the driving force of the story and his circumstance is extraordinary. He opens his soul to any reader who is willing to look beyond his actions to know who he is. Unfortunately, as personal and immediate that 1st person can be, there’s much we don’t know about Annemarie. Clearly she doesn’t reveal everything on her mind, and what we do know about her is filtered through Wake. I’m not sure any male is equipped to fully understand the intelligence and motivations of the female mind.

JW: If you can have an actual conversation with any of your characters from Our Souls to Keep, who would it be? What would you ask them?
GC: I’ve already had many conversations with all my characters. They’re actually fun to talk to. But, given the opportunity, I would like to spend more time with Annemarie. She’s gracious and supportive, even in difficult situations. Her head must be filled with a ton of things she doesn’t say. Within an intense, life-threatening situation, she falls for Wake. She is deeply protective of her child, and is open and trusting with her affection for Wake. I would ask her, “What is the quality in Wake you are most attracted to?”

JW: Which character had been the hardest to write? The easiest?
GC: The hardest character to write was definitely Wake. His experiences aren’t mine and his courage is at a level that most of us can only hope to achieve. But the hardest to write was the depth of his love. Wake isn’t a classically written romantic male character, but what woman wouldn’t want to be with a man who is as passionate and unselfish as Wake? There is no limit to what Wake would do for the people he loves. It was hard to represent the true depth of his powerful emotions.

I didn’t think any of the characters were easy to write, but Satan was the most fun. He has the ability to alter himself to manipulate others to serve his own purpose. That means I was able to create him any way I wanted. In the Our Souls to Keep world, he’s evil, but not just because it’s what he does. It was fun to explore his motivations for evil. Of course, we never really know how he feels about anything because everything has the potential to be a lie. Attempting to know Satan is like trying to trap running water in your hands.

JW: What can we expect to see from Wake in the future?
GC: Currently, I’m putting the final touches on a YA murder mystery series called The Dark Side of Truth which is scheduled for release in September, 2013. I’ve started making random notes for Souls on Fire, the sequel to Our Souls to Keep. Souls on Fire has a target release of Spring, 2014. Unfortunately for Wake, his circumstance will be more complex and the stakes will be higher. I’m out-of-my-shoes excited to write it! I can’t wait!

JW: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
GC: I was driving home from work, stuck in traffic. My mind was wandering because I had an urge to do something different with my spare time. Then it just popped into my head, “Why not write?” It was really a radical thought. I watch football, but it doesn’t mean I can run onto the field and play pro football. I read books, and I was considering being a professional writer. It was a leap of faith. I had no writing experience—none! But I decided it would an adventure. That was three years ago. It took me a year to write and edit my first novel, Benjamin Drake and the Stones of Oberon. It was a fun story with lively characters, but I was a terrible writer. Thankfully, I enjoy writing more than I ever thought I would, so I was able to stick with it through the ugly times. I pushed that novel aside, burying it deep in some unknown place so no one would ever find it. I worked very hard to improve as quickly as possible so I could share my work without being too embarrassed. Now, I can’t imagine my life without writing.

JW: What do you enjoy doing when you are not writing?
GC: During the day, I teach 8th grade science. I love teaching kids. That takes a lot of my time, but I enjoy developing positive relationships and helping students reach their potential. As much as I love writing and teaching, my favorite time is being with my family. It really doesn’t matter what we do. I’m always happiest when I’m with them.

JW: What are you currently reading?
GC: I’m about halfway through Graceling, halfway through The Night Circus, and half way through Dirty Blood. I’m so busy, but I’m motivated to finish them because I’m very excited to read Days of Blood and Starlight, the sequel to The Daughter of Smoke and Bones as well as Stephen King’s Under the Dome and Joyland, and Dan Brown’s Inferno. Sadly, most of my time is spent writing, reading and critiquing student work from my creative writing club at school, and critiquing works in progress from other writers. When I’m writing a new novel, I like to start a new book. Not just because novels are a wonderful way to escape the pressures of normal life, but also because they spark my creativity. Thankfully I’ll have time to read this summer.

JW: Lastly, what advice would you give to aspiring writers?
  1. Know that it’s hard to be a good writer. It requires many, many hours alone at your computer, so make sure you love doing it—a lot. Otherwise, writing will feel like work.
  2. Write as much as you can, even when you feel uninspired. You may not always like what ends up on your screen, but sometimes you’ll get ideas you never expected. Just let your mind roam.
  3. Learn from your mistakes so that you don’t spend too much time correcting the same ones over and over. You’ll improve at a faster rate.
  4. Don’t take shortcuts at the expense of producing the best quality work. That means edit, edit, edit.
  5. Be very open to advice, but remember that the person responsible for your work is you.
  6. I believe the only way to right well, is to accept that you’ll write poorly when you start. Once you understand that, you’ll allow yourself to get better.
  7. Treat yourself and your work with respect or no one else will.
  8. Write uncomfortably. I hear people suggest that you should write what you know. Good advice for beginning writers. But I believe growth happens faster, the farther you are out of your comfort zone. That’s why good actors take on a variety of roles. It pushes the edge of their creative potential. The same thing is true for writers.

Gary Caruso lives in northern Virginia with his wife Jill, but their favorite place is in Ohio with their three beautiful grandchildren. Although Gary is exhilarated when he sits down to write, teaching middle school science is his first love. He’s passionate about empowering students to make thoughtful decisions and positive choices in life. Gary enjoys reading, especially fiction that blurs the line between what’s real and what’s fantasy. He never imagined becoming a writer until an ordinary car ride on a spring day jolted an unlikely thought into his head. Gary’s early experience writing is a reminder that no matter how intimidating the challenge, action and determination are the foundations for fulfilling any dream. Gary has an insatiable love for writing, a blessing he’s excited to share with his readers.

It was definitely a lot of fun to conduct the interview, and I highly recommend reading Our Souls to Keep, because I absolutely loved it!

Our Souls to Keep on Goodreads (definitely add to your to-read shelf), Amazon, and Barnes and Noble 

Also, be sure to like Gary on Facebook: and check out his website at

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